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A sorry state of affairs

AngelaSmith.jpgAngela Smith on the challenge in the Lords over the government’s ill-thought through plans to remove citizenship

Later today, the House of Lords will vote on a cross-party amendment led by Crossbench Peer and QC, David Pannick to refer the government’s proposals on statelessness to a Joint Committee of Parliament that would fully examine the evidence.

A Clause put into the Immigration Bill towards the end of the Commons Report stage meant Ministers did not allow time for adequate scrutiny and consideration on such a serious matter. So after no consultation or prior discussion, the government would be able to withdraw citizenship from a naturalised citizen.

Existing legislation allows for the withdrawal of citizenship from an individual if their actions are prejudicial to the interests of the UK. Used occasionally before 2010, it is a way for the government to take action against someone who is also the citizen of another country and judged to be a serious danger. But alongside an increase since 2010 in the number of cases when this has been deployed, Ministers now propose to use the power even when it would make an individual stateless.

For such an extraordinary power to be given to the Home Secretary, one would have expected the government to have examined all the implications and consequences; as well as provide evidence on how such a measure would contribute to public safety, national and international security. But despite a series of questions raised in the Lords at Committee stage, detailed and credible answers have not been forthcoming.

So today, the Pannick amendment – formally backed by the former Supreme Court Judge Simon Brown, the former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken MacDonald and myself – will call on the government to allow further and better scrutiny. We all want to protect citizens from any potential terrorist activity at home and abroad, and we also recognise that we have international obligations. But Ministers have failed to explain how their new Clause would better protect the public from those who may be a danger.

An individual being made stateless would either remain locked in the UK – unable to leave, work or receive any support; or locked out and presumably stranded in another country that has only admitted them on the basis of their UK passport.   

The government has admitted that it has legal obligations to stateless persons in the UK and may consider some form of immigration leave – although no details have been provided. For those made stateless outside the UK, the position is even less clear. When asked about discussions with other governments, Ministers have been dismissive that these are not necessary. But surely such action would impact on those who admit UK citizens? Guy Goodwin Gill, a Professor of Public International Law at Oxford University, has concluded that any state admitting an individual on the basis of their British passport would be fully entitled to return that person, whether or not our government had made them stateless. 

What value will this measure have? Will it improve national security? What are our obligations to those made stateless? Why have there been no discussions with other countries? Would we advise other countries before or after someone in their country was made stateless?  

When I and others asked these and other questions in Committee there were few answers. The Home Office Minister Lord Taylor apologised and pleaded that he was “doing his best”. He was; but his best wasn’t good enough and if the House is to be reassured that the government has fully considered all the implications of the proposal more detailed answers and assurances will be required today.

Baroness Angela Smith is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

Published 7th April 2014

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